Love of an artist can often lead to a desire to read about that artist-his or her life and works set in a literary or scholarly context. I am an unabashed lover of Duke Ellington's music, and as a result I've spent a fair amount of time over the years delving into books about him. Ellington was born on April 29, 1899 and died on May 24, 1974. A lot of troubled water flowed under the bridge in America during that span of years, and as an African-American composer and bandleader with profound ambitions, Ellington perpetually had to battle racism, economic challenges, and the shifting tastes and mediums of the entertainment market. That he produced so much remarkable music in doing so (even in his final years) is further testament to the extraordinary nature of his achievements.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather a set of recommendations, all of which I've read at least in part-an Ellington's dozen of worthwhile books that illuminate, in a variety of ways, the significance of his life and music. A brief survey of Night Lights programs about Ellington is included as well.
Stanley Dance, The World Of Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington, Music Is My Mistress
Edward Green (ed.), The Cambridge Companion To Duke Ellington
John Edward Hasse, Beyond Category: The Life And Genius Of Duke Ellington
John Howland (ed.), Duke Ellington Studies
Eddie Lambert, Duke Ellington: A Listener's Guide
Stuart Nicholson, Reminiscing In Tempo: A Portrait Of Duke Ellington
David Schiff, The Ellington Century
Klaus Stratemann, Duke Ellington, Day By Day And Film By Film
Mark Tucker, Ellington: The Early Years
Mark Tucker (ed.), The Duke Ellington Reader
Additional Suggestions Received From Readers:
Mercer Ellington, Duke Ellington In Person: An Intimate Memoir